Agency in Ancient Writing
Joshua Englehardt University Press of Colorado, 2012 Library of Congress P211.7.A44 2012 | Dewey Decimal 411.7
Individual agents are frequently evident in early writing and notational systems, yet these systems have rarely been subjected to the concept of agency as it is traceable in archeology. Agency in Ancient Writing addresses this oversight, allowing archeologists to identify and discuss real, observable actors and actions in the archaeological record.
Embracing myriad ways in which agency can be interpreted, ancient writing systems from Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, China, and Greece are examined from a textual perspective as both archaeological objects and nascent historical documents. This allows for distinction among intentions, consequences, meanings, and motivations, increasing understanding and aiding interpretation of the subjectivity of social actors. Chapters focusing on acts of writing and public recitation overlap with those addressing the materiality of texts, interweaving archaeology, epigraphy, and the study of visual symbol systems.
Agency in Ancient Writing leads to a more thorough and meaningful discussion of agency as an archaeological concept and will be of interest to anyone interested in ancient texts, including archaeologists, historians, linguists, epigraphers, and art historians, as well as scholars studying agency and structuration theory.
What distinguishes humans from nonhumans? Two common answers—free will and religion—are in some ways fundamentally opposed. Whereas free will enjoys a central place in our ideas of spontaneity, authorship, and deliberation, religious practices seem to involve a suspension of or relief from the exercise of our will. What, then, is agency, and why has it occupied such a central place in theories of the human?
Automatic Religion explores an unlikely series of episodes from the end of the nineteenth century, when crucial ideas related to automatism and, in a different realm, the study of religion were both being born. Paul Christopher Johnson draws on years of archival and ethnographic research in Brazil and France to explore the crucial boundaries being drawn at the time between humans, “nearhumans,” and automata. As agency came to take on a more central place in the philosophical, moral, and legal traditions of the West, certain classes of people were excluded as less-than-human. Tracking the circulation of ideas across the Atlantic, Johnson tests those boundaries, revealing how they were constructed on largely gendered and racial foundations. In the process, he reanimates one of the most mysterious and yet foundational questions in trans-Atlantic thought: what is agency?
The Crucible of Consent
James E. Block Harvard University Press, 2011 Library of Congress HQ784.P5B56 2011 | Dewey Decimal 649.10973
Why do free people submit to any rule? How is consent of the governed formed? Block argues that the source is found in the nursery and schoolroom, where the necessary synthesis of self-direction and integrative social conduct —so contradictory in logic yet so functional in practice—are established without provoking reservation or resistance.
The First Person Singular
Alphonso Lingis Northwestern University Press, 2007 Library of Congress BD450.L5193 2007 | Dewey Decimal 126
Alphonso Lingis’s singular works of philosophy are not so much written as performed, and in The First Person Singular the performance is characteristically brilliant, a consummate act of philosophical reckoning. Lingis’s subject here, aptly enough, is the subject itself, understood not as consciousness but as embodied, impassioned, active being. His book is, at the same time, an elegant cultural analysis of how subjectivity is differently and collectively understood, invested, and situated.
The subject Lingis elaborates in detail is the passionate subject of fantasy, of obsessive commitment, of noble actions, the subject enacting itself through an engagement with others, including animals and natural forces. This is not the linguistic or literary subject posited by structuralism and post-structuralism, nor the rational consciousness posited by post-Enlightenment philosophy. It is rather a being embodied in both a passionate, intensifying activity and a cultural collective made up of embodied others as well as the social rituals and practices that comprise this first person singular.
What does it mean to be free? We invoke the word frequently, yet the freedom of countless Americans is compromised by social inequalities that systematically undercut what they are able to do and to become. If we are to remedy these failures of freedom, we must move beyond the common assumption, prevalent in political theory and American public life, that individual agency is best conceived as a kind of personal sovereignty, or as self-determination or control over one’s actions.
In Freedom Beyond Sovereignty, Sharon R. Krause shows that individual agency is best conceived as a non-sovereign experience because our ability to act and affect the world depends on how other people interpret and respond to what we do. The intersubjective character of agency makes it vulnerable to the effects of social inequality, but it is never in a strict sense socially determined. The agency of the oppressed sometimes surprises us with its vitality. Only by understanding the deep dynamics of agency as simultaneously non-sovereign and robust can we remediate the failed freedom of those on the losing end of persistent inequalities and grasp the scope of our own responsibility for social change. Freedom Beyond Sovereignty brings the experiences of the oppressed to the center of political theory and the study of freedom. It fundamentally reconstructs liberal individualism and enables us to see human action, personal responsibility, and the meaning of liberty in a totally new light.
This landmark book addresses the central problem in anthropological theory today: the paradox that humans are products of social discipline yet producers of remarkable improvisation.
Synthesizing theoretical contributions by Vygotsky, Bakhtin and Bourdieu, Holland and her co-authors examine the processes by which people are constituted as agents as well as subjects of culturally constructed, socially imposed worlds. They develop a theory of self-formation in which identities become the pivot between discipline and agency: turning from experiencing one's scripted social positions to making one's way into cultural worlds as a knowledgeable and committed participant. They emphasize throughout that "identities" are not static and coherent, but variable, multivocal and interactive.
Ethnographic illumination of this complex theoretical construction comes from vividly described fieldwork in vastly different microcultures: American college women "caught" in romance; persons in U.S. institutions of mental health care; members of Alcoholics Anonymous groups; and girls and women in the patriarchal order of Hindu villages in central Nepal.
Ultimately, Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds offers a liberating yet tempered understanding of agency, for it shows how people, across the limits of cultural traditions and social forces of power and domination, improvise and find spaces to re-describe themselves, creating their cultural worlds anew.
The largest group of indigenous people in the Bolivian Amazon, the Mojos, has coexisted with non-Natives since the late 1600s, when they accepted Jesuit missionaries into their homeland, converted to Catholicism, and adapted their traditional lifestyle to the conventions of mission life. Nearly two hundred years later they faced two new challenges: liberalism and the rubber boom. White authorities promoted liberalism as a way of modernizing the region and ordered the dismantling of much of the social structure of the missions. The rubber boom created a demand for labor, which took the Mojos away from their savanna towns and into the northern rain forests.
Gary Van Valen postulates that as ex-mission Indians who lived on a frontier, the Mojos had an expanded capacity to adapt that helped them meet these challenges. Their frontier life provided them with the space and mind-set to move their agricultural plots and cattle herds, join independent indigenous groups, or move to Brazil. Their mission history gave them the experience they needed to participate in the rubber export economy and the politics of white society. Van Valen argues that the indigenous Mojos also learned how to manipulate liberal discourse to their advantage. He demonstrates that the Mojos were able to survive the rubber boom, claim the right of equality promised by the liberal state, and preserve important elements of the culture they inherited from the missions.
Michael E. Bratman develops a planning theory of intention. Intentions are treated as elements of partial plans of action. These plans play basic roles in practical reasoning, roles that support the organization of our activities over time and socially. Bratman explores the impact of this approach on a wide range of issues, including the relation between intention and intentional action, and the distinction between intended and expected effects of what one intends.
Dramatism provides us with a seemingly endless array of stages from which to perform our analysis of human action. By enlarging or reducing the scope of our endeavors, as has been done throughout the present work, we can use the Dramatism method to reveal almost any sort of relationship.
Life and Action
Michael Thompson Harvard University Press, 2008 Library of Congress BJ37.T49 2008 | Dewey Decimal 191
Any sound practical philosophy must be clear on practical concepts—concepts, in particular, of life, action, and practice. This clarity is Michael Thompson’s aim in his ambitious work. In Thompson’s view, failure to comprehend the structures of thought and judgment expressed in these concepts has disfigured modern moral philosophy, rendering it incapable of addressing the larger questions that should be its focus.
Law relies on a conception of human agency, the idea that humans are capable of making their own choices and are morally responsible for the consequences. But what if that is not the case? Over the past half century, the story of the law has been one of increased acuity concerning the human condition, especially the workings of the brain. The law already considers select cognitive realities in evaluating questions of agency and responsibility, such as age, sanity, and emotional distress. As new neuroscientific research comprehensively calls into question the very idea of free will, how should the law respond to this revised understanding?
Peter A. Alces considers where and how the law currently fails to appreciate the neuroscientific revelation that humans may in key ways lack normative free will—and therefore moral responsibility. The most accessible setting in which to consider the potential impact of neuroscience is criminal law, as certain aspects of criminal law already reveal the naiveté of most normative reasoning, such as the inconsistent treatment of people with equally disadvantageous cognitive deficits, whether congenital or acquired. But tort and contract law also assume a flawed conception of human agency and responsibility. Alces reveals the internal contradictions of extant legal doctrine and concludes by considering what would be involved in constructing novel legal regimes based on emerging neuroscientific insights.
Challenging traditional philosophical views of moral responsibility, Eugene Schlossberger argues that we are responsible not so much for what we do as for who we are. He explores what it means to be a person, concluding that personhood is the sum of beliefs and values—which are by no means entirely within our control. Consequently, the voluntariness of our acts—or even whether we act at all—is irrelevant to the moral evaluation of us as persons. Schlossberger contends that we are to be judged morally on the basis of what we are, our "world-view," rather than what we do.
In Moral Responsibility and Persons Schlossberger disputes various received philosophical positions. His challenging and entertaining account also examines psychology and its view of the nature of personhood, as well as insanity and the "personality" of animals, children, and computers. He explores the validity of emotions we may feel in response to others—especially gratitude and resentment. And finally, Schlossberger tackles the inevitable implications of his position in the area of crime and punishment.
A Nation of Agents
James E. BLOCK Harvard University Press, 2002 Library of Congress E169.1.B654 2002 | Dewey Decimal 306.097309034
In this sweeping reinterpretation of American political culture, James Block offers a new perspective on the formation of the modern American self and society. Block roots both self and society in the concept of agency, rather than liberty, and dispenses with the national myth of the "sacred cause of liberty"--with the Declaration of Independence as its "American scripture." Instead, he recovers the early modern conception of agency as the true synthesis emerging from America's Protestant and liberal cultural foundations.
Block traces agency doctrine from its pre-Commonwealth English origins through its development into the American mainstream culture on the eve of the twentieth century. The concept of agency that prevailed in the colonies simultaneously released individuals from traditional constraints to participate actively and self-reliantly in social institutions, while confining them within a new set of commitments. Individual initiative was now firmly bounded by the modern values and ends of personal Protestant religiosity and collective liberal institutional authority. As Block shows, this complex relation of self to society lies at the root of the American character.
A Nation of Agents is a new reading of what the "first new nation" did and did not achieve. It will enable us to move beyond long-standing national myths and grasp both the American achievement and its legacy for modernity.
Table of Contents:
1. The American Narrative in Crisis
Part I. The English Origins of the American Self and Society 2. The Early Puritan Insurgents and the Origins of Agency 3. The Protestant Revolutionaries and the Emerging Society of Agents 4. Thomas Hobbes and the Founding of the Liberal Politics of Agency 5. John Locke and the Mythic Society of Free Agents
Part II. The Ascendancy of Agency and the First New Nation 6. The Great Awakening and the Emergent Culture of Agency 7. The Revolutionary Triumph of Agency
Part III. The Dilemma of Nationhood 8. The Liberal Idyll amidst Republican Realities 9. From the Idyll: Liberation and Reversal in a World without Bounds
Part IV. The Creation of an Agency Civilization 10. National Revival as the Crucible of Agency Character 11. From Sectarian Discord to Civil Religion 12. The Protestant Agent in Liberal Economics 13. John Dewey and the Modern Synthesis
Conclusion: The Recovery of Agency
Reviews of this book: A Nation of Agents is a work of extravagant erudition and originality. James E. Block has read voraciously in the sources, seen things that few have seen before, and put them together as none have done before. He sets forth a new view of American culture, threading his thesis through three centuries of American thought and the preceding century of English thinking besides. --Michael Zuckerman, Journal of American History
Reviews of this book: What a wonder then is James Block's book, a daring master narrative and bracing theoretical exercise of the first order. It promises and delivers nothing less than a fundamental recasting of 'the American path to a modern self and society.' --Robert Westbrook, Christian Century
Reviews of this book: James Block's big, ambitious A Nation of Agents leaves no doubt about its aspirations in the contest to solve the Gordian knot of the relationship between the one and the many in American social thought...The subtlety and acuity with which Block develops these themes through scores of thinkers and over 500 pages can scarcely be exaggerated. A Nation of Agents is a genuinely prodigious work of scholarship. --Daniel T. Rodgers, Modern Intellectual History
This is an original and exciting work of scholarship, in which the idea of agency takes on the characteristics of a deep cultural imperative in American life. Block's agency thesis is at once a genealogy of modern American identity and a theoretical exploration of the horizon within which American political and moral self-reflection is conducted. --Eldon J. Eisenach, The University of Tulsa
The most remarkable aspect of this book is the author's ability to weave a single thread -- the thread of "agency" -- through four centuries of Anglo-American intellectual history. Block's great achievement is to propound a new "common theme" to American history. A Nation of Agents is a beacon for scholars seeking a usable past. If ever intellectual history is to regain its prominence in the field of American history it will require works like this. --Harry S. Stout, Yale University
New Materialisms brings into focus and explains the significance of the innovative materialist critiques that are emerging across the social sciences and humanities. By gathering essays that exemplify the new thinking about matter and processes of materialization, this important collection shows how scholars are reworking older materialist traditions, contemporary theoretical debates, and advances in scientific knowledge to address pressing ethical and political challenges. In the introduction, Diana Coole and Samantha Frost highlight common themes among the distinctive critical projects that comprise the new materialisms. The continuities they discern include a posthumanist conception of matter as lively or exhibiting agency, and a reengagement with both the material realities of everyday life and broader geopolitical and socioeconomic structures.
Coole and Frost argue that contemporary economic, environmental, geopolitical, and technological developments demand new accounts of nature, agency, and social and political relationships; modes of inquiry that privilege consciousness and subjectivity are not adequate to the task. New materialist philosophies are needed to do justice to the complexities of twenty-first-century biopolitics and political economy, because they raise fundamental questions about the place of embodied humans in a material world and the ways that we produce, reproduce, and consume our material environment.
Contributors Sara Ahmed Jane Bennett Rosi Braidotti Pheng Cheah Rey Chow William E. Connolly Diana Coole Jason Edwards Samantha Frost Elizabeth Grosz Sonia Kruks Melissa A. Orlie
The Possibility of Practical Reason explores the foundational questions of moral psychology: How can any of our behavior qualify as acting for a reason? How can any considerations qualify as reasons for us to act? David Velleman argues that both possibilities depend on there being a constitutive aim of action?something that makes for success in action as such. These twelve essays?five of which were not included in the previous edition, two of them previously unpublished?discuss topics such as freedom of the will, shared intention, the relation between value and practical reasoning, the foundations of decision theory, and the motivational role of the imagination.
J. David Velleman CSLI, 2013 Library of Congress B105.A35V44 2007 | Dewey Decimal 128.4
“What do you see when you look at your face in the mirror?” asks J. David Velleman in introducing his philosophical theory of action. He takes this simple act of self-scrutiny as a model for the reflective reasoning of rational agents: our efforts to understand our existence and conduct are aided by our efforts to make it intelligible. Reflective reasoning, Velleman argues, constitutes practical reasoning. By applying this conception, Practical Reflection develops philosophical accounts of intention, free will, and the foundation of morals. This new edition of Practical Reflection contains the original 1989 text along with a new introduction and is the latest entry in The David Hume Series of Philosophy and Cognitive Science Reissues, which keeps in print previously published indispensable works in the area of cognitive science.
"A major contribution in women's studies and in other disciplines
dealing with issues of agency. The authors raise issues that are very
important . . . and they raise them as they must be raised--by bridging
theory and action." -- Kathryn Pine Addelson, author of Moral Passages: Toward a Collectivist Moral Theory
Both the women's liberation movement and those who have studied it characterize
agency as the capacity to make change in individual consciousness, personal
lives, and society. The seventeen contributors to Provoking Agents
explore whether--and how--feminist theory, writing, and other social practices
can help readers move beyond seeing women as a powerless group to effecting
changes in their own lives and, ultimately, becoming social activists.
Topics in this multi-disciplinary collection range from maternal surrogacy
to writing, from consciousness-raising to AIDS activism, from pornography
to local organizing
Eric Marcus Harvard University Press, 2012 Library of Congress BD530.M37 2012 | Dewey Decimal 122
Contemporary philosophers of mind tend to explain rationality by viewing the mind as a kind of machine—the only alternative, it has seemed, to a ghostly supernatural explanation. Marcus rejects this choice as false and defends a third way—via rational causation, which draws on the theoretical and practical inferential abilities of human beings.
Relational Identities and Other-than-Human Agency in Archaeology explores the benefits and consequences of archaeological theorizing on and interpretation of the social agency of nonhumans as relational beings capable of producing change in the world. The volume cross-examines traditional understanding of agency and personhood, presenting a globally diverse set of case studies that cover a range of cultural, geographical, and historical contexts.
Agency (the ability to act) and personhood (the reciprocal qualities of relational beings) have traditionally been strictly assigned to humans. In case studies from Ghana to Australia to the British Isles and Mesoamerica, contributors to this volume demonstrate that objects, animals, locations, and other nonhuman actors also potentially share this ontological status and are capable of instigating events and enacting change. This kind of other-than-human agency is not a one-way transaction of cause to effect but requires an appropriate form of reciprocal engagement indicative of relational personhood, which in these cases, left material traces detectable in the archaeological record.
Modern dualist ontologies separating objects from subjects and the animate from the inanimate obscure our understanding of the roles that other-than-human agents played in past societies. Relational Identities and Other-than-Human Agency in Archaeology challenges this essentialist binary perspective. Contributors in this volume show that intersubjective (inherently social) ways of being are a fundamental and indispensable condition of all personhood and move the debate in posthumanist scholarship beyond the polarizing dichotomies of relational versus bounded types of persons. In this way, the book makes a significant contribution to theory and interpretation of personhood and other-than-human agency in archaeology.
Susan M. Alt, Joanna Brück, Kaitlyn Chandler, Erica Hill, Meghan C. L. Howey, Andrew Meirion Jones, Matthew Looper, Ian J. McNiven, Wendi Field Murray, Timothy R. Pauketat, Ann B. Stahl, Maria Nieves Zedeño
Being human while trying to scientifically study human nature confronts us with our most vexing problem. Efforts to explicate the human mind are thwarted by our cultural biases and entrenched infirmities; our first-person experiences as practical agents convince us that we have capacities beyond the reach of scientific explanation. What we need to move forward in our understanding of human agency, Paul Sheldon Davies argues, is a reform in the way we study ourselves and a long overdue break with traditional humanist thinking.
Davies locates a model for change in the rhetorical strategies employed by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species. Darwin worked hard to anticipate and diminish the anxieties and biases that his radically historical view of life was bound to provoke. Likewise, Davies draws from the history of science and contemporary psychology and neuroscience to build a framework for the study of human agency that identifies and diminishes outdated and limiting biases. The result is a heady, philosophically wide-ranging argument in favor of recognizing that humans are, like everything else, subjects of the natural world—an acknowledgement that may free us to see the world the way it actually is.
Talk, Tools, and Texts tackles a perplexing issue: how can we envision writing as developing throughout a lifetime, from the first purposeful marks made on paper to the last? How can we make accounts of writing development that keep the complexity of our lives in mind while also providing useful insight to researchers, teachers, and writers?
Drawing on eleven accounts of writers at different points in the lifespan (ages 12 to 80) and in different social circumstances (from a middle-school classroom to a bird-sanctuary newsletter), Talk, Tools, and Texts constructs a “logic-in-use” for following writers and their writing development at a variety of points in the lifespan. It also offers several strategies scholars can use in pursuit of their own research into lifespan writing.